The U.S.'s growing military ties with Uzbekistan may be a strategic necessity, given the importance of the Central Asian country in the U.S.'s war effort in Afghanistan. But it is forcing the U.S. to confront an important, if little-discussed, complication: Uzbekistan is the least-trusted, most-feared country in the region. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have well-known border and water conflicts with Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan sees Uzbekistan as a regional rival. So is the U.S.'s military aid to Uzbekistan raising regional tensions?
U.S. military aid, after being suspended for several years because of human rights concerns, is steadily being ramped up. That the U.S. is giving small surveillance drones to Uzbekistan is the worst-kept secret in Washington (OK, in the narrow slice of Washington that The Bug Pit inhabits). It's also giving Uzbekistan's armed forces night-vision goggles, body armor, and GPS systems, and there are credible rumors in Washington of heavier military equipment being considered for Uzbekistan to either buy or be given. (And it's not just the U.S.: Uzbekistan has pledged to work more closely with NATO on training, and the U.K. is also planning to make some donations to Uzbekistan as well.)
The roles played by regional powers Russia and Turkey in Syria's civil war are well documented, the former on the side of the government of Bashar al-Assad, and the latter on the side of the opposition. But according to a new report by a human rights group, Georgia and Azerbaijan also play bit parts in helping the Syrian government.
The report by the Human Rights First, Enablers of the Syrian Conflict (pdf), attempts to shine light on the international actors fueling the bloodshed in that country. It focuses solely on aid given to the government of Syria, not to the rebels. "Although both sides of the conflict are responsible for atrocities, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the vast majority," the report says.
Private companies in Georgia and Lebanon have supplied Syria with diesel fuel, the report notes:
[S]mall vessels carrying diesel from Georgia have also sailed into Syria.The United States provides foreign assistance to both Lebanon and Georgia. This assistance, and close bilateral relations, affords the United States an opportunity to exercise diplomatic and political action to have the Lebanese and Georgian governments investigate these reports and stop actors within those countries from fueling the crisis in Syria.
For its part, Azerbaijan allows Russia to use its airspace for shipments of weapons and cash:
Some lethal provisions to Syria by air initially involved transit through Turkey; however, after Turkey took steps to inspect suspected arms flights to Syria, Russia, Iran, and North Korea have all attempted to instead use Iraq as an arms corridor, with Russian transfers also traveling through Azerbaijan and Iran....
The history of the Caucasus has long been dominated by three surrounding powers: Turkey,Russia, and Iran. And while Europe and the U.S. have become part of the equation in recent years, the region is still likely to be subject to the influences of its big neighbors to the west, north, and south. And so a big project by the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies on "The Turkey, Russia, Iran Nexus" is particularly interesting for observers of the Caucasus. CSIS has just released a report (pdf) examining how the various bilateral relationships (i.e. Turkey-Russia, Russia-Iran, Turkey-Iran) interact in political, economic and other ways. The report notes that Russia is not as worried about Iranian influence in the Caucasus as it is about Turkey:
Moscow is not enthusiastic about any state increasing its influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus, be it Turkey, Iran, China, the United States, or whomever. As then-President Dmitri Medvedev stated in September 2008 just after the five-day Georgia War, Russia regards the post-Soviet states as its “zone of privileged interests.” Having noted that, Iran’s presence and activities in Central Asia have been viewed as very much aligned with those of Moscow while Turkey’s as neither significant nor malign enough to draw too much attention.
Eurocopter-Kazakhstan Engineering's factory in Astana
Just a week after proudly announcing the expansion of the Kazakh-European joint venture producing military helicopters, it seems that relations between Kazakhstan's government and its European partner, defense giant Eurocopter, may be getting rocky. The company, Eurocopter-Kazakhstan Engineering, has been accused of violating labor laws and discriminating against citizens of Kazakhstan, reports Tengrinews.kz. From a press release of the Aviation Prosecution Office of Astana:
The Astana Aviation Transport Prosecutor's Office together with the government labor inspector for Astana conducted an inspection of the Eurocopter-Kazakhstan Engineering's compliance with the labor legislation of Kazakhstan. Many violations of Kazakhstan's legislative requirements on labor and insurance in the activity of the partnership were uncovered.
Among the violations: the company allegedly failed to provide proper safety instructions to its employees and engaged in "discrimination against the rights of citizens of Kazakhstan with regard to pay in comparison with foreign citizens for equivalent work." As a result, the company was fined 934,740 tenge, or just a little over $6,000. So, chances are this won't break Eurocopter's bank.
Tajikistan has seen the massive amount of military aid that Russia has promised Kyrgyzstan, and has decided that it wants in on the windfall. And it's willing to delay the ratification of the Russia-Tajikistan military base agreement signed back in October in order to get it, according to a report in Russian newspaper Kommersant.
Recall that last year, Russia promised a big military aid package to both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with the former country getting $1.3 billion and the latter $200 million. Tajikistan's aid was part of the deal for a 30-year extension of Russia's lease on the 201st military base. It's not clear why it took so long, but Tajikistan's president, Emomali Rahmon, has now apparently decided that he got a raw deal. From Kommersant:
In the words of Kommersant's source close to the bilateral government commission [working out the base agreement] Dushanbe has raised two additional conditions [to the base deal]. The Tajik side has demanded a formal bilateral agreement based on the verbal agreements reached in October -- on Russia's provision of the means of modernizing Tajikistan's armed forces, and money for the development of its hydroenergy. Moreover, in Dushanbe they have expressed the wish for Moscow to allocate more than the promised $200 million for the rearming of the Tajik army, noting that Russia promised Kyrgyzstan around $1 billion for the analogous purpose.
This comes on top of another delay, imposed by the Tajik side in January. And the Kommersant piece ends with a dark warning:
Screenshots from Press TV report on Iran's March 17 launching of Jamaran-2 destroyer in Caspian Sea
Iran has launched a new destroyer in to the Caspian Sea, its largest ship yet in its Caspian fleet. The ship, the Jamaran 2, was launched at a March 17 ceremony in the port city of Bandar-e Anzali attended by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and top military officials. According to Press TV, Ahmadinejad said at the event:
"Without a doubt all neighboring countries are happy with Iranian Navy’s achievements because they consider these advancements as a step towards their own security in the region."
And Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi added:
"We have a great relationship with all countries bordering the Caspian. It was decided to have a unified force protecting the Caspian, we all agreed. The destroyer Jamaran-2 is to defend against terrorists and smuggling of weapons and drugs in that area."
That's definitely not the case. Azerbaijan, especially, has been worried about Iran's military superiority in the Caspian, and so Baku is likely not happy with this achievement. Russia and Kazakhstan also have shown some suspicion of Iran's intentions.
The Jamaran-2 is an updated of the Jamaran-1 that Iran launched three years ago in the Persian Gulf. By international standards it is more the size of a frigate, though Iran calls it a destroyer. It can carry surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, as well as torpedoes, and has a helipad.
In 2001, the U.S. made a deal with Tajikistan to set up an air base near the Afghanistan border, but backed out at the last minute in favor of the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan, said the man who was U.S. ambassador to Dushanbe at the time. The diplomat, Franklin Huddle, said that Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense who made the decision to use Manas instead of the Tajikistan base, agreed to fund a bridge to Afghanistan as a sort of consolation prize.
While it was reported at the time that the U.S. was looking at bases in Tajikistan, it hadn't been known until now that a deal had been reached. Huddle said that the government of Tajikistan had agreed to allow the use of the base at Kulyab, even going so far as to kick out the Russian troops who were then occupying it. It also hadn't been reported until now that the bridge at Nizhny Pyanj, funded by the U.S., was given to Tajikistan to mollify the Tajiks disappointed by losing the clout, and money, they would have gotten by hosting a U.S. military base. Huddle told the story at a conference this week in Washington. Here's how he told it:
“Rumsfeld had come to Tajikistan, he'd had orders from the president to get a base in Tajikistan. I sat in in the meeting and translated, in fact [for part of the meeting]. That base was then given to them, and the Tajik government asked the Russians to leave, which was a big deal. Well, then Rumsfeld changed his mind and decided to use Kyrgyzstan instead, just as the base was all ready to open, trains were coming to bring ammunition. That was Christmas Eve. So Christmas Day, I had to go in an tell President Rahmon what was not a very nice piece of news. The Tajik government, to their credit, took it like a man and didn't say anything about it and kept the relationship going.
The U.S. intelligence community believes that the greatest threat facing Central Asia is internal, rather than emanating from Afghanistan, in contrast to recent statements by State Department, members of Congress and Pentagon officials who have lately been emphasizing Afghanistan-based Islamist threats to the region.
In an annual ritual, the U.S. director of national intelligence delivers the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community to the Senate, and the current director, James Clapper, did so Tuesday morning. Obviously such a report can make the world sound like a very dangerous place (Micah Zenko, of the Council on Foreign Relations, calls it the "World Cup of threat inflation"). But the section of the report dealing with The Bug Pit's beat is remarkably sober. While last year's report emphasized the threat to Central Asia from Afghanistan, this year's makes no such mention, instead focusing on the region's internal dynamics:
Kazakhstan is set to expand its production of military helicopters, with the ambition of becoming "one of the world flagships in the production of light attack helicopters," the state defense company Kazakhstan Engineering has announced. The Kazakhs signed a memorandum of cooperation with European defense giant Eurocopter (a division of EADS) to build the EC 645 T2, an armed version of the EC 145 that is already being built in Kazakhstan. From a press release from Kazakhstan Engineering, the state defense company:
According to the document [signed by Kazakhstan Engineering President Bolat Smagulov and Eurocopter Senior Vice President Olivier Lambert] the Joint Stock Company Eurocopter Kazakhstan Engineering, the only manufacturer of the EC 145 in the CIS, will assemble and service military helicopters EC 645 T2.
The agreements ... will allow the joint enterprise to move to a new step of its development, to establish assembly (with the production of some components) of a higher level of technology. The EC 645 T2 helicopter is one of the newest designs available on the world market. At the moment, serial production has not started in any country in the world. In the case of the successful realization of the signed document Kazakhstan will become one of the world flagships in the production of light attack helicopters.
The EC 645 T2 isn't currently in use with any military in the world, but it's a candidate for the U.S. Army's new Armed Aerial Scout helicopter. It boasts advanced laser targeting technology and the ability to be armed with a variety of rockets and guns.